Wimbledon hopes are high for the Brits … regardless of Andy Murray

Estimated read time 5 min read

Considering he has carried the hopes of a nation on his shoulders for almost two decades, it’s perhaps no surprise that Andy Murray’s 37-year-old body has started to buckle and break down. The big one was an operation in 2019 that left him with a metal right hip. But injuries have been a recurring feature of his latter career: the latest is a spinal cyst that required back surgery last weekend. The recovery period for that is typically six to 12 weeks; by Wednesday, Murray – one of the most belligerent competitors any sport has seen – was hitting balls again.

As for playing at Wimbledon, which starts tomorrow, Murray is keeping us guessing. He is slated to face the Czech world No 38 Tomas Machac on Tuesday. “I would say it’s probably more likely that I’m not able to play singles right now,” he said last week. “I’m also doing rehab 24/7 to try to give myself that opportunity to play there again.”

Andy Murray, in a baseball cap and with wristbands and a slight moustache, does a forehand move, putting his left hand on the racket as he swings towards the ballView image in fullscreen

Few are risking Murray’s hard stare to rule him out just yet. “He would have to be a medical miracle ahead of the curve, certainly to play singles,” says Catherine Whitaker, presenter of the hit Tennis Podcast. “But he’s Andy Murray, and defiance and contrarianism, they are his MOs. So it’s totally trademark Murray that he should be hoping to defy the odds again. This last whole phase of his career has been defined by wringing the sponge dry, and it feels like he’s trying to do that one more time.”

Whether Murray steps out onto Wimbledon’s fabled lawns this year or not – he is also down to play doubles with his brother Jamie – there is an unusual and cautiously justified optimism about British hopes coming into the event. On the men’s side, 22-year-old Jack Draper arrives having already won a tournament on grass: the Boss Open in Stuttgart. At Queen’s Club last month, he put away Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz in straight sets. Tall, big-serving and with a crunching lefty forehand, the new British No 1 and 28th seed will have eyes on the second week – at least.

There is depth in the British women’s contingent, but two names stand out: Katie Boulter, 27, and Emma Raducanu, 22. Raducanu’s career so far has played out almost in reverse. In 2021, ranked 150 in the world and just starting out, she won the US Open, becoming the first qualifier (male or female) ever to win a grand slam. Only then did she start playing regularly on tour, but expectations and injuries seemed to overwhelm her. She faced scrutiny for fronting too many endorsements and changing her coaching team as often as her sweatbands.

But she comes into Wimbledon looking a force. She reached the semi-finals at the Nottingham Open, and at Eastbourne last week beat Jessica Pegula, her first victory against a top 10 player. “I actually think Emma is a better player now than she’s ever been, which is quite funny to say,” says Naomi Broady, a former world no 76 who now commentates for the BBC. “The improvements she’s made since the US Open are massive: she’s changed her serve; she’s changed her forehand as well. She’s said publicly how much better she performs in the gym now: she lifts heavier weights; she can run faster, further. She’s improved so much.”

Emma Raducanu, in shorts, T-shirt, visor and big-beaded bracelet over her wristband, purses her lips as she lunges for the ball with her racketView image in fullscreen

Boulter, the British No 1 and 32nd seed, is also in unprecedented form. She won the Nottingham Open, and Broady thinks she is one of the world’s top 10 women on grass. “Wimbledon is a funny grand slam: it tends to be more open than the others because so many players aren’t comfortable on the surface,” says Broady. “And you have to put Katie up there. She doesn’t have impostor syndrome. She’s not lacking belief when she’s out there against these top players.

“Her movement is one of the biggest things for me. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say it was a weakness, but it would be something you’d consider when you were on court against her. Now that’s not the case. She gets so many balls back into play.”

Even if Murray does not play, his presence will be felt in the performances of the new generation of British talent. Broady recalls how the Scot would often congratulate her on victories, no matter how small the tournament. And all of the current players will have grown up watching Murray train at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, south-west London, witnessing how hard you need to push yourself to reach the top.

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Katie Boulter, long blond hair flipping up from beneath her visor and wearing a sleeveless top, has an angry expression as she holds the racket with both hands, mid-actionView image in fullscreen

“Without Andy Murray, there’s no Jack Draper,” says Whitaker. “Or certainly Jack Draper doesn’t have the attitude that he has. He’s been set an example; he’s been shown what it takes to rinse every drop from your talent. Draper was a very prodigious junior, but there’s never been any complacency in his attitude, or arrogance or entitlement. Andy Murray has to take some credit for creating this template for how to be a professional. And Jack Draper would be the first person to tell you that.”

The only concern, perhaps, is that British fans expect too much from Draper, Boulter and Raducanu. “They could all do with England getting a bit better in the Euros,” says Whitaker. “Because as soon as England go out of the football, suddenly they’re the biggest show in town. That’s good in some ways, but I genuinely think it could benefit them for England to get their act together.”

Source: theguardian.com

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